“Perhaps I have reached the age at which those who have been through the wash-and-spin cycle a few times become seized by the notion that their own experience in the suds may be relevant to others.” Margaret Atwood, “Negotiating with the Dead”
I’m becoming an official senior soon, reaching the arbitrary age recognized by society through reduced ticket prices at movies, slightly lower fares on transit and small senior-sized portions at the occasional early bird dinner.
I thought this next phase would be about growing old, but inevitable as that may be I don’t yet feel old, or even that I’m aging, although a look in the mirror should convince me that time is marching on.
What is starting to shift is feeling senior, with its particular challenge of becoming an elder, with lived experiences that may be useful to others.
In traditional religious and First Nations communities, elders are respected for having obtained wisdom and are entrusted with responsibility. They often settle disputes, guide the young and set an example of proper behavior.
At the same time, elders are expected to behave with humility, fairness, be slow to judge others, temperate in their own behavior and in religious organizations devout.
I’ve achieved the age of an elder, but I’m not so sure I’ve obtained the wisdom to be entrusted with the accompanying responsibility. Reaching this age has inspired more reflection, though, and a striving to understand what I may have learned during my time in the wash-and-spin cycle.
One thing I think I’ve learned is to listen, slowing down in conversations and paying more attention to what’s being said beneath the surface of language. It’s a rich layer, the subsurface, with currents of insecurity and vulnerability beneath the upper level of more confident words. The reward is deeper intimacy when successful at hearing what is truly meant.
Asking deeper questions is another skill that comes with seniorhood. Curiousity and inquisitiveness are skills well coupled with listening, yet most of us too often stop at the face value of interactions rather than delving more deeply into the issues of deepest concern. I have watched my own capacity to ask the next question has grown along with the ability to accept the sometimes-troubling answers, another powerful blessing of growing older.
We seniors also benefit from being repositories of history, better able to analyze current situations because of our lived experiences. I find increasingly that stories from the past come to mind that illuminate current dilemmas, often indicating a way forward informed by lessons learned many decades ago.
A final senior revelation has been a growing acceptance of my own limitations and those of others. I am less judgmental of my own faults, and certainly more tolerant of what my younger self would have considered defects in others.
It’s in this context that I’m trying to grow into my recent appointment as a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Dialogue. My hope is that as a senior I can contribute by modeling a commitment to deep listening, probing but respectful questioning, attention to the stories from which we can learn and tolerance for our many vulnerabilities.
If those are to be my senior moments, growing old will be sweet, indeed.